Sunday I earned my third win at the 2015 Panasonic New York City Triathlon. I won the men’s race, and also the “equalizer” by catching the women’s leader, Alicia Kaye.
This race was among the most exciting of career, and certainly tops the list for the most brutal shoot out between myself an another athlete. I raced for over an hour-and-forty-minutes within a few seconds of Cameron Dye, both of us jockeying for the lead, both of us surging to drop the other. We raced our hearts out right up to the line. Cam and I have raced each other more than we have raced any other individual. We have similar backgrounds, as collegiate swimmers who found our real talent lies in riding a bike really fast between swimming and running. Cam probably has a decent margin over me in total number of victories, but we go back and forth throughout every season. Frequently one of us gets away on the bike and holds on for the win. Sometimes I’ll catch Cam on the run, sometimes we come off the bike together and he runs away from me. In Oceanside last year at the Lifetime Champs Cam rode away on the bike and I ran him down to a sprint finish on the run that determined the series champion for the entire season (I lost that one).
— NYC Triathlon (@NYCTRIATHLON) July 19, 2015
Even as I crossed the line I couldn’t believe I had won
Yet Sunday was probably the most exciting race we have had together, a fact that the timing splits alone don’t show. It was a real edge-of-the-seat, “Dye-Collins-Dye” race right up to the finish. I was jazzed after the race – I felt like I was floating on clouds for the remainder of the day – It was the kind of race where we gave everything we had and brought out the best in each other. Neither of us gave up and the result came down to the final steps of an incredibly challenging day. New York City is a race I love, and I have given it everything I had to give in the past, but this year it took more than I knew I could give to cross the line first.
It all started in the Hudson. The race was an equalizer format, meaning the women’s field was given an 11-minute-37-second lead over the men’s field, and a $3,000 bonus was given to the first person to cross the finish-line, man or woman. Last year Alicia Kaye had less time and I was only able to catch her (in the final mile of the run) by setting a course record and running sub-32-minutes. I wasn’t confident I could do any better this year.
The swim in New York is the most talked about portion of the race. The river is brown and tastes salty and there’s debris floating by that gives the impression that it’s not particularly clean. In reality, the swim is somewhat unique in that strategy comes into play. Even though the current can drag swimmers along to stunningly fast swim times – in the pro wave it feels like a 12 minute sprint – how you position yourself at the start and how well you can stay in the stronger current is critical to ensuring the best swimmers gain as much time as possible over the top runners of the field.
The first transition is really long, likely a full kilometer, so runners have a chance to rejoin the swimmers prior to the start of the bike, and if the swimmers don’t position wisely with the current they can easily find themselves in a bike pack with guys who typically aren’t starting the run from the front.
Cam led the swim and chose a perfect line, skirting the edge of the course as close as the marshals would allow. There was another athlete in the mix with us, swimming second with me in third, but neither Cameron nor myself knows who he was. Still, we stared the bike with Rudy Von Berg, who is a real threat on the run. As I turned on the West Side Highway I planned to set the pace extremely fast until Rudy was gone from our wheels. Cam had another idea and I found myself pushing beyond my comfort zone to keep up. Rudy, and everyone else near us, was gone by the time I was comfortable enough to turn my head. I took the lead once in the first 10 miles, but Cameron was right next to me the whole time. He retook the lead and the pace just stayed at that high level. Nearing the turnaround we saw Alicia coming back south and I realized we were farther behind than I had been a year earlier. I used the momentum of a descent, took the lead and attempted to maintain the intensity Cameron had set to effectively drop the rest of the men’s field. From there to the finish of the bike leg we stayed in a static formation with Cam staggered and just behind while I tried and tried to pace the back half fast enough to drop him and catch Alicia.
We came into the second transition in close to record time, with me edging out Cameron for the fastest bike split by split seconds. I was aching from the effort, but I know from past experience that Cameron’s run speed doesn’t seem to be hindered by insanely hard bike legs. I had a quick transition and charged up the hill from transition with the sounds of heavy breathing right over my shoulder.
The first mile of the run is across West 72nd Street. I love this part of the race because of how quiet the street is at 7am on a Sunday, and with the road completely closed to traffic. Normally that moment pulls my head from the race long enough for me to appreciate the silence, but this year I was longing for a familiar voice to be there cheering. That voice never came, and half way to Central Park Cameron came by me at a speed I could barely match and set the pace a notch above what I thought I could maintain.
The entrance to Central Park is right at the 1-mile marker and it marks the end of flat running. At this point I was craving an aid station as the humidity and heat started to grip me. Cameron turned into the park with just behind. My watch clicked a mile-split at 5:40, a fan shouted that we were 60 seconds behind Alicia Kaye, and as the ground contorted into hills Cameron quickened the pace and gapped me.
For the next mile I had two thoughts: first, I tried to focus on form and staying relaxed as I knew the third mile is where the rolling asphalt turns to substantial hills. Second, I told myself I couldn’t give up on Cameron or the runners behind would make quick work of me if I did. At that point I had ceded victory to Cameron, and his profile shrank.
In the third mile things became interesting. In my effort to keep Cameron close I actually began to close back in. Over every hill I came a little closer, and as we passed into the fourth mile, looping by the aquatic park at the north end of the park I found myself back in Cameron’s draft, turning south and running back up the last major hill of the run. Up ahead Alicia came into view and we passed her right at the 4-mile marker, the two of us just a stride apart.
With that pass of Alicia the focus for both of us seemed to narrow. It was battle for the win, and for the equalizer bonus as well. In my world, Cameron was the only other person who existed at that moment.
I tried to pass Cameron, knowing that I couldn’t match his speed if it came to a sprint in the end. Cameron countered with a surge and dropped me again. I pumped my arms to force turnover and scraped my way back to his shoulder. I tried again, he dropped me again, I scraped back. As we approached the five-mile mark I thought, “I have one more attempt and if it doesn’t work he’s won.” We crossed the timing pad at mile five in lockstep but as I came around Cam countered again and kept me on his shoulder. We sped past the Metropolitan Museum of Art at our fastest pace of the day and my mind buzzed with the dilemma. I had no surge left, my sprint speed has been sacrificed for half-ironman training, and the heat was beginning to tighten my lungs in a familiar way. I looked at Cam in the corner of my eye and willed myself to pump the arms and pick up the pace. We were probably 1200 meters from the finish with more downhill than up, and I decided to start my “sprint” there. My legs were going to buckle, I just hoped it would happen after the finish line. I had no idea who would win the race.
The effort put me a stride ahead of Cameron. Then another stride length, and suddenly his footsteps were no longer audible. The charge of the crowd began pounding into my ears and I saw the familiar turnoff into the final lollipop. Around the grand-stands and fountain and into the finish chute. I never looked back I just ran with everything I had. At the finish they announced me as the winner and I realized Cameron was not within sprinting distance. I crossed. I grabbed the tape. I fell to my knees and held the banner over my head in Central Park for the third time.